Creative Learning Connection

Educational Resources from a Veteran Homeschool Mom

Category: Homeschooling Encouragement (page 1 of 2)

Encouragement from a Mom of 12 with 35 years of homeschooling experience.

Learning Resources

I love sharing resources with others who are looking for new and different ways to educate children, in and out of a classroom. So it was very exciting at a recent family get together when I learned that one of my brothers-in-law is planning to become a classroom teacher when he retires from his first career in a couple of years.

He wants to teach elementary school, and I primarily focused on high school in my last years of teaching, but I still had quite a few fun resources to share with him.  And it occurred to me that some of these may be of interest to readers of this blog as well.

Free and Inexpensive Resources

So here are a number of my favorite all around educational resources, several of which are free or inexpensive, and most of which could be helpful whether you are involved in the education of younger students or older ones, and whether you are dealing with just one or two students, or an entire classroom of them.

TED Talk

An amazing Ted talk by Sir Ken Robinson on Changing Paradigms about Education (everyone with an interest in education should watch this!):

 Izzit

Izzit.org Educational DVDs are amazing! And as an educator you can get a free one each year. (Or you can stream any of them for free.) If you are working with high schoolers there are so many great ones to choose from!  If you are working with elementary age, these two (Pups of Liberty) are my favorites:

Books and Lectures

As I’ve mentioned on my other blog, I am an avid Audible listener. So, of course, I listen to these through Audible. But the first two are also available as books, and the last one is also available directly through the Great Courses (though there they will definitely cost more than getting it through Audible!)

Happy Learning!

Cathy

 

Never Stop Learning!

Beginning Another School Year

Depending on what part of the country you’re in, school has either just started or will likely start sometime in the next several weeks. (Having gone to school mostly in the North, the start of a school year belongs after Labor Day in my mind, and that’s generally how I structured my classes. But I know that not everyone has that amount of flexibility.)

But either way, starting a school year, like ending one, is a good time to reflect on the purpose of school.  Why do we do what we’re doing? What are we trying to accomplish? It might be better to ask and answer those types of questions before plunging into the “which curriculum will we be using this year?” questions.

Home Schooling vs. Home Educating

In my thirty-five years of educating my own children, I often used the term “home schooling” out of simplicity (since it’s the term most often used by the others involved in a similar journey), but in actuality, my focus was seldom on schooling my children. So why, you might ask, was I home schooling my children? Because I cared about the education my children received.  Even before our first child was born, my husband and I were researching what our educational options for each of them would be.

It’s not that students can’t receive a good education in a private or public school situation – many of them do. It’s not that there aren’t good teachers in those settings – many of them are. (Both my Mom and Dad were teachers at different times in their careers.  I respect the hard work done by them and the many other dedicated teachers out there.) And it’s not that every parent is cut out to be responsible for supervising the education of their own children – but I find that many of them are!

Defining “Education” and “School”

The Dictionary.com definition for education is “the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge; developing the powers of reasoning and judgement, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.”

Especially when we get to the “developing the powers of reasoning and judgement” portion of that definition, isn’t that a better description of what we’re trying to accomplish than their definition of school: “an institution where instruction is given.”

What’s the “Best Education”?

I never wanted my home to feel like an institution, and after I got started on my journey of educating my own children, I also didn’t want it to feel like a school. This wasn’t just about giving instruction! Helping my children receive their best education became my goal. Not someone else’s definition of “the best education” either – but what was best for each of them.

Love of Learning and Tools to Learn

Did I always accomplish my goals with them? Of course not. But my primary goals were to help give them a love of learning and the tools to learn. Now that they are all adults, I think it’s safe to say I was fairly successful in those goals.

Recently, independent of each other, two other adults made comments to me about learning. One said something to the effect of “she was tired of learning new things.” The second one was complaining about something he had never learned, as if he was now somehow too old to learn it.

Never Stop Learning

My response to the first person was that when we stop learning we stop living. May God always give us the desire to continue learning! And to the second person I pointed out that it would be better to say that he hadn’t had a chance to learn that particular thing yet.  He’s still alive, with a sound mind, and should certainly continue to learn new things!

My Retirement Goals

At sixty, I’m now semi-retired, with full retirement likely right around the corner. What retirement means to me is that I get to spend my time learning what I want to learn – which is an amazing freedom that I hope to fully take advantage of.  Of course, I spend much of my learning time on the history that goes with my current writing project (Leonardo da Vinci, at the moment). And this summer, as discussed in several recent posts, I’ve had the privilege of attending two Shakespeare events that have been lots of fun learning as well. (I do have much more to share about Shakespeare, but first I have to organize my notes. So those of you who don’t want to hear more about Shakespeare get another week off, and those that do, will have to wait another week, or go back and read the first, second, or third posts about that exciting subject.)

Learning to Draw

But of all the things I’m currently making time to learn, the drawing lessons I’ve been doing have to be the most fun.  I’ve wanted to learn to draw for a long time, but like anything else, it’s a task that takes time. This summer I’ve finally decided to make that time. I’ve been working out of several “learn to draw” books for about a month now. And I can actually see progress in my drawings. It’s very exciting.

The Time to Learn

So, please, take the time to learn. You won’t regret it. (And if you’re a homeschooling parent or classroom teacher, it’s a great thing to model for your kids/students!)

Happy learning!

Cathy

Even More Shakespeare Fun

Okay, so this wasn’t quite the type of camp we had.

In last week’s posts (here and on CatherineJaime.com) I mentioned two of the many ways we experienced Shakespeare at the No Kidding Shakespeare camp I recently attended. A camp for adults, who knew?

My Methods for Sharing

Today I will share several others. But first, I want to reiterate a couple of things from my first post on Sharing Shakespeare: in the twenty years that I’ve taught Shakespeare I’ve settled into a fairly simple way of sharing Shakespeare with my students – passing out characters in order to read the plays aloud together, and watching the plays (live and on video). There are distinct advantages to both the reading and the watching, and over the years I’ve done both, sometimes starting with one and sometimes starting with the other. (Though last year I had an unusual group of students – they didn’t want to spend any of our class time watching plays – they were enjoying the reading too much! Since this group included a couple of young men with no prior experience reading Shakespeare, I was not going to argue!)

To Read Them All or Not To Read Them All

Enough Comedies, Tragedies, and Histories to last a LONG time!

Overall, I have found that method to be very successful – I have introduced countless students to the wonderful words of the Bard that way. And I certainly won’t be making any major changes this year. (The one year I tried a major shift got off to a really bad start, until I went back to the tried and true.) But what I do plan to do is work in a few of the activities we did at camp around our reading – starting or ending several class periods with an activity that relates to that week’s class. That will mean spending more time on one play, but I have no problem with that. Years ago we had a three and a half year push to read every one of Shakespeare’s plays aloud in class, but since then we’ve settled for making our way slowly through some of the best. (Reading each play was a great accomplishment, but it is certainly not for the faint of heart!)

Dramatic Activities with Shakespeare

But, with no further ado, here are some of the other neat activities we did at camp that I’m hoping to incorporate this fall:

Speaking Sculptures

For this activity we each received a line from a play and then had to walk around the stage reciting the line as we followed different instructions we were being given – walk faster, walk slower, speak the line faster, speak louder, those types of things. I think the idea there was for us to become comfortable with our line, and to experience it in different ways.

A scene from Much Ado

Then we paired off with the person closest to us. We were to instruct our partner to stand in a pose that somehow went with our line. The challenge was that we were not supposed to talk to our partners, nor touch them – we were supposed to get them into position with merely the suggestion of our hands. And I’m sure my students will give me the same blank looks that you’re trying to give me right about now. (It’s definitely something that’s easier to explain through showing than through words, so you’ll just have to take my word for this portion.) Once each partner was in position they were given the other’s line to speak. As half of the group stood as” speaking sculptures,” the other half wandered around and looked and listened. Then we swapped places and repeated the process.

“Forming” the sculpture was indeed a challenge. But it was interesting to wander around and listen to the different lines. I hadn’t recognized my own line or my partner’s line, but as I moved from sculpture to sculpture I did recognize some of the others as being from Much Ado About Nothing. It turned out all of them were from Much Ado. 

Introducing a Play?

A rendition of Taming of the Shrew

I’m thinking that might be a fun way to introduce whatever play we’re starting with this fall. (Sadly, I’m still deciding which one we’re going to do first – so many good ones to choose from – so I can’t start getting lines prepared for this quite yet.) One of the plays the American Shakespeare Center folks will be bringing to Huntsville in February is Taming of the Shrew, so it’s at least in the running for our first play of the semester, depending on how long ago we last read it.

Once I have our first play chosen, I can pick lines for the students to practice speaking and sculpting. I wonder if they’ll be able to figure out which play it is any faster than I did.  Time will tell!

Snapshots of a Scene

For another one of our activities we were broken into small groups, each with a portion of a different scene. Each group had the same number of people as their scene had characters.  As a group we had to choose five places from our scene that we could take “snapshots” of  – where we could  quickly “act” them out (more of a posed three-dimensional picture for each place.) The idea was to visually represent the highlights of our little scene.

I’ve never considered myself much of a drama person (I know, I know, I teach Shakespeare, but that’s different!). But I really enjoyed the various activities we did like this one.

Varying the Tempo

Another time we were in similar small groups with a different short passage. We were instructed to start by reading aloud our passage (adding limited movements if we wanted). Then  we had to read it again several times, varying the tempo and emphasis of individual portions as we read. We could see (or actually, hear) what the small changes we made to our reading did for the overall feeling of our section.

Using These in Class

I don’t want to turn my Shakespeare classes into acting classes – plenty of others already offer those. I want to keep my emphasis on reading and enjoying Shakespeare. But I can see how these types of activities, sprinkled sporadically amongst our readings could add a new dimension to our Shakespeare understanding and enjoyment.

More to Come

I’m not sure if I’ve shared about all of the great activities we did at camp yet. (I still haven’t gotten home, unpacked from that trip, and relocated my notes!) But either way I should have more to share within a week or two. I’m planning to go back to Staunton to attend their Teacher Seminar. in early August. Hey, we’re on a roll here! Maybe by then I can nail down which play(s) we’ll be tackling this fall and start figuring out where to work in these various, fun activities.

Actors before Hamlet

In the meantime, if you are already planning to share Shakespeare with your (older) students next year, I hope these different ideas are helpful. And if you’re aren’t, maybe you could reconsider. Overall, I’m a big fan of middle school and high school students spending lots of time with Shakespeare, but not so keen on younger students being exposed to his work. Adult themes permeate these plays, and I don’t see the benefit of sharing those with our youngsters quite yet, but maybe that’s just me. Some of my students have enjoyed Shakespeare with me for as many as four or five years. (What can I say, I don’t think they can get too much Shakespeare!)

Remember, as Hamlet said so many years ago, “The play’s the thing.”

Happy reading!

Cathy

Sharing Shakespeare with Students

Almost twenty years ago I started a literary journey of discovery that I may never turn back from. Sad to say, at that point in my middle-aged life, I had never read an entire Shakespeare play. In 7th grade we had studied portions of Macbeth, but I’m fairly sure that was the sum total of my previous Shakespeare (reading)  experience.  I’m not sure how I managed to graduate from high school (as valedictorian, no less) with no other encounters with Shakespeare. But I don’t know which frustrates me more – that fact, or the fact that I actually took a Shakespeare class while I was a student at M.I.T. – and we never read a total play there either!

Enjoying Shakespeare

Yes, there are lots of ways to enjoy Shakespeare – watching his plays on the stage or on a screen certainly aid in that process. I even wrote a guest blog post for Folger about  “Three Ways to Have Fun with Shakespeare,” so I’m clearly not against those types of activities either.

Reading Shakespeare

But playing with or watching Shakespeare should come with reading Shakespeare, not take its place.  And I’m not talking about reading about Shakespeare – I’m talking about reading Shakespeare. Yes, the plot development and characters in Shakespeare are pretty amazing – but It’s his words that rise to the top when I ponder why students need to become better acquainted with the Bard. And there’s no better way to make that acquaintance than by reading his plays – from start to finish.

Another way to read Shakespeare.

My First Classes

When I started this journey it was at the request of one of my older sons. He had been reading Shakespeare on his own (having fairly well exhausted the literature in the family’s extensive library). But he was tired of reading the plays alone. The conversation went something like this: “Mom, you should teach a Shakespeare class. I want to read these plays aloud with others.” Me: “Of course.” (As I’m wondering how I’m going to teach about something I know so little about.)

But as happened so often in the thirty-five years that I homeschooled, not knowing something didn’t get in my way. I was going to make this work – and learn Shakespeare along the way, right alongside my students. The first year I “taught” Shakespeare we invited one other family (so between us we had eight readers). In order to have a good balance of plays, we started with Much Ado about Nothing, Hamlet, and Henry V, giving us a taste of his comedies, tragedies, and histories. Those three plays had the added advantage of being easily available in video format. (Though I found out the hard way that the version of Hamlet we rented needed to be screened.)

Sadly, I can’t remember now whether we watched the video versions and then read the plays, or did it the other way around (and over the years of teaching since then I’ve done it both ways). But either way, when it came to reading the plays, we passed out characters amongst each of our readers, and then read each play, from the first scene to the last one.

Characters and Lines

It didn’t take me long to run across the first problem – trying to determine which characters had the most lines.  With students of a variety of reading levels (from elementary age through high school), it was crucial to have an idea which characters spoke most often and with the greater number of lines. After a great deal of searching I gave up and took care of the problem myself – creating a character-line chart for each play we were preparing to read. (How many lines does Hamlet have? Or Ophelia? Or the King? I could soon answer all of those questions and then some!)

After one year with just one other family I was branching out and inviting other high school students I knew.  Pretty soon I was teaching a bona fide high school Shakespeare class of sixteen students. We mostly read Shakespeare, occasionally watched Shakespeare, and sometimes we even discussed Shakespeare.

Other Resources

While I was teaching, I continued to learn about Shakespeare – reading a number of other books along the way. (A couple of my favorite books included Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare and Shakespeare for Dummies.) As I taught and studied I fell further and further in love with Shakespeare.

Recently I’ve also discovered several Audible books related to Shakespeare that I’ve also enjoyed, including Shakespeare Saved My Life and several Great Courses lecture series – Shakespeare: The Word and the Action; William Shakespeare: Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies and How to Read and Understand Shakespeare.

None of the above are absolutely critical for starting to teach or learn about Shakespeare, but any of them will help add to your understanding if you are interested.

Sharing Shakespeare

And I can safely say that I have now shared my love of Shakespeare with dozens of students directly over the last two decades, and through other teachers that I taught, probably hundreds more. Many of them benefited from the guide I wrote during my first three and a half years of teaching every Shakespeare play – Sharing Shakespeare with Students.

Happy learning!

Cathy

Teaching History without Textbooks

If I could only choose one subject to try and convince people to teach without the hindrance/help of textbooks, it would be history. History out of a textbook is generally just about memorizing dates and names long enough to take a test. (The regurgitation method I mentioned in the previous blog post, Teaching Curriculum vs. Learning Curriculum.) But how much of that is actually learned? From my personal experience, I would have to say very little.

Dates and Names?

Are the dates and names really that important? Why do we want our students to memorize things that are (a) so quickly forgotten and (b) so easily looked up?

King Richard I

When I think of history and what’s important about it, the first thing I think of is the stories. Isn’t it the stories of people and events that matter? It’s not just those long lists of names, whether they be presidents or kings or explorers. No, it’s what those men and women (and occasionally, children) did that make them worthy of being on a list in the first place. If we stick to the stories of history, much of the remembrance will come. And again, what we don’t remember, we should at least know how to look up.

Flow of History

Civil War Ruins

The other important part of history we shouldn’t neglect is the flow of history. I didn’t necessarily need my students to memorize the dates of the important events – but I did want them to have a sense of what came before what. Many, many years ago I read an insightful book, What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know? The statistics in the book were rather startling. The majority of high school juniors and seniors couldn’t place things like the Civil War in the right half century – on a multiple choice test. While I may not think that every student should be able to tell you without hesitation that those dates were 1861 to 1865, I think they should all have an idea that it was fought in the second half of the 19th century and that World Wars I and II were fought in the first half of the 20th century.

History Options

So, when we are choosing our educational packages for our students for the upcoming year(s), what should we take into consideration in our decisions for history? Can we look beyond what the curriculum companies package together for us and consider what might be a better “learning curriculum” instead?

Should We Cover Hundreds or Thousands of Years?

First, I would recommend asking whether it’s really necessary to study such a long period of history in such a short amount of time. It is amazing to me that almost every American History curriculum insists on a study that covers hundreds of years, and of course, World History curriculums are generally worse, covering thousands of years.

At what point did we decide that history should be taught that way? Who can really make sense of that many events in such a short time? Why not choose a portion of American or World History to teach – and go into it in more depth? Many homeschoolers hesitate to stray away from canned curriculum because they might miss something. But, as I’ve always said, covering something is not the same thing as learning it. (Go back to that difference between Teaching Curriculums and Learning Curriculums.) Shouldn’t we be more concerned about what actually gets learned?

Tests?

Another common fear I heard often was “What about tests?” When we’re not using the packaged curriculum, we’re giving up those nice, neat tests they generally provide. But since I don’t see a real value in tests in a homeschool situation, I never really missed them myself. And if you really need a test, you can always write one yourself. Or better yet, have the student(s) write it! What a great way for a student to show they have learned about a particular topic – if they can write the test that shows what the most important things were that they just studied.

Where do I begin?

So, you might be asking, if I’m going to teach something smaller, like say, the Civil War, and I’m not going to use a curriculum, what am I going to use? There is an endless supply of resources for teaching history – from field trips to movies to “real” books – both fiction and non-fiction. My family spent an entire school year studying the Civil War. (I put our favorite resources in my book, Civil War Topical Study.) We visited battlefields in a number of places, including Shiloh, Chattanooga, and Gettysburg. We watched several movies, including the Great Locomotive ChaseGettysburg and Glory. (The first one is a family movie and the other two are great movies – minus the bad language and some typical battle violence – as with all such things – preview before you show!) And we read countless books, from the public library and from our own personal library. For older students and adults, Jeff Shaara is my absolute favorite history author. (And he has written historical novels on a fairly large number of American wars besides the Civil War – including the Mexican War, the Revolutionary War, and both World Wars I and II.)

Using Games

As I’ve said before, games are another great way to learn and reinforce topics like history. Timeline games are one of our favorite tools for increasing history learning. I talked about those more on my other blog in Writing Timeline Games. But if you are unfamiliar with the concept, they are basically what they sound like – a timeline in a game format. In keeping with the priority of learning the flow of history without memorizing specific dates, the games can be played and won without having any of the dates memorized. You don’t have to know exact dates – you just have to know which events came before and after the other events in your timeline.

Options Outside of Textbooks

Hopefully you are getting the idea that there are lots of history options outside of textbooks. Choose a time period or a war and start learning together with your student(s). You don’t have to have it all figured out in advance and you don’t have to have all the answers!

Happy learning!
Cathy

Teaching Curriculum versus Learning Curriculum?

Learning and Teaching

I want to expand on the ideas I presented last week in “How do I Encourage my Children to be Lifelong Learners?” Learning and teaching are two of my favorite topics and have been for a long time – that’s why I have read books like John Holt’s classics, How Children Learn and How Children Fail, for decades now. And I listen to Great Courses lectures like How We Learn and Mind-Body Medicine: The New Science of Optimal Health.

Mind-Body

You can probably see where I’m going with those first titles, but may be scratching your head on that last one.  One moment I was talking about learning and teaching, and the next I was talking about medicine.  Well, not quite. Professor Satterfield teaches about much more than medicine in this lecture series.  He also speaks of how we learn, in the context of how our mind and body work together. In Lecture 7 he said something so simple, but so significant, that I stopped what I was doing at the time, so I could write it down. Professor Satterfield asked: “Do we want a teaching curriculum or a learning curriculum?”

Where is Our Emphasis?

In that question lies the crux of what I believe more educators (at home and in schools) need to address – is the emphasis on what is being taught or on what is being learned?  I’ve been asking that for at least the last decade or so, maybe longer, as I’ve counseled other homeschoolers: Just because we’ve taught something, or covered something (i.e. force fed textbooks and tests after textbooks and tests) doesn’t mean it’s been learned! Professor Satterfield mentioned another thing I’ve been saying for a long time – learning something long enough to regurgitate it on the test, and then promptly forgetting it, isn’t true learning at all.

Our Learning Goals

So, when you are trying to decide what your student really needs to be doing in this coming school year, please keep that in mind. Let’s get to a point where we are focused more on helping our students be better learners, rather than just better test takers. I was a straight A student through high school, but that doesn’t mean I had a quality education. It meant I knew how to memorize things for the tests. It wasn’t until after college, when I came face to face with the history around me, that I really started learning for learning’s sake. That (and homeschooling my own kids for the past 35 years) is when my real education began.

What Makes a Great Education Package?

A truly great education package doesn’t teach our students everything they need to know (since that is a goal we will never achieve). But, rather it gives them the tools and the desire to learn. That is the gift that I hope I have given my children and my other students in my 35-year journey of homeschooling. There are certainly things they didn’t learn from me that they could have, but that isn’t the issue. Did I open their eyes, their minds, and their worlds, so that they could get a taste of what it meant to truly learn, and then did I send them off with the tools to learn whatever they needed/wanted to learn? That was my goal and I hope that I have accomplished that to the best of my human ability.

Happy learning!

Cathy

How do I Encourage my Children to be Lifelong Learners?

Questions Homeschoolers Ask Themselves

Along the way to finishing our homeschooling journey, I asked myself the same questions most homeschoolers ask themselves at some point: What are our goals? What do my children/students really need to accomplish before they graduate?

Ultimately, I distilled those questions down to what I consider to be the most critical question: How do I encourage my children to learn? (And as part of that question – to want to learn?)

Encouraging our Students to Learn

Can’t we honestly say that everything we are trying to accomplish in teaching can be boiled down to that question: How do we encourage our students to learn?

We can disagree on what they should learn, maybe even why they should learn certain things, but regardless of how long our children learn at home – our ultimate goal might best be stated as “We want our children to be lifelong learners.”

So, how do we accomplish that? Even if we all agree on that principle, it’s doubtful we will all agree on how to accomplish it. But, let me be so bold, after thirty-five years of home educating, to offer my thoughts on the subject:

The Tools to Learn

First, we have to give them the tools to learn – starting with the basics of reading and writing in most cases (there are exceptions, when students truly can’t learn those, but those are rare – and will likely be the topic of a future post). But for most of us, the ability to read well will open more doors than almost any other skill. (And, I might add, the enjoyment of reading would be a close second.)

A Desire to Learn

But more than just the tools, we need to give them a desire to learn. How many times does it seem like as the homeschool parents/teachers we’re in the business of squashing interests, rather than developing them? Let’s whet their appetite to learn new things, rather than extinguish it.

Introducing them to New and Exciting Things

We need to introduce them to new and exciting things – to expand their horizons beyond themselves. One of my favorite ways to do that has been through travel. A friend sent me Mark Twain’s quote about travel while I was on my most recent trip: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” And aren’t those some of our goals as homeschooling parents?

Every time I travel I am personally motivated to learn more about my destinations – their history and culture, their people and their geography.  I am glad I have been able to take my children on a fairly large number of trips during my decades of parenting/homeschooling. As Mark Twain put it so well, and I have believed for as long as I can remember, travel is a great way to increase our/their horizons,

Opening their Minds

But if travel is not in your budget or desires, choose other ways to open their minds – books of other lands and times are a great way to pique their interests. Introduce them to new and different people. Watch movies about things that introduce them to other cultures. The list of options is endless.

Encourage Creativity

In addition to opening their minds in this manner, encourage creativity. Too much of school is geared towards finding “the right answer.” But how much of life is actually about finding a unique solution to a problem – troubleshooting, figuring out how to use the resources at hand? Most of that type of knowledge comes from experiences – not from the pages of a textbook.

For far too long I didn’t consider myself to be a creative person – because I’m not particularly artistic or musical (particularly compared to other members of my family). But I finally figured out that creativity manifests itself in so many other ways – such as writing. How many of our students are being deprived of creative opportunities – whether musically, artistically, or other – simply because we are too focused on getting through our textbooks?

Logic and Thinking Skills

Similarly, work on developing logical and thinking skills. Our family plays games and puts together puzzles regularly, both of which build thinking skills and logic. (I wrote more on how important games are in a previous post.) We also used materials from Critical Thinking Press frequently – a great treasure trove of materials for “building thinking skills.”

When we have given our students the tools of learning and a taste for learning, and helped develop their creative and logical skills – what in life will they not be able to tackle?

What are others saying about this topic?

I was putting the finishing touches on this post when I saw the email from Mises Institute, with their post, “Four Reasons Why College Degrees are Becoming Useless.” Their first point mentions the importance of “critical thinking skills.” And on the FEE website I found another article specifically about creativity: “How Schooling Crushes Creativity”

So what do you think? What is important as you teach your students? How do you encourage them (and yourselves) to be lifelong learners?

Happy learning and living!
Cathy

The Wonder and Value of Audio Books!

Books on Tape

I’m sure by now most or all of you have enjoyed some form of “Books on tape.” For those of you too young to remember the things that came before CDs (or are even CDs becoming old school now?), my earliest memories of books on tape were when my Dad was in Vietnam in 1970. He read aloud a book for us, recording it on a cassette tape, one chapter at a time and mailing the tapes to us in the United States. My husband did the same thing in 1999 when we were in Germany and he was in Saudi Arabia with Desert Storm. (My dad read a horse story and my husband read Mouse and the Motorcycle.)

Audio Books vs. Read Alouds

Since those times, I have listened to hundreds of audio books, and I don’t think the best narrators out there will ever surpass those experiences. But I will say that many of the narrators I’ve listened to make the power of the written word come alive in some pretty wonderful ways. And while reading aloud to our children should be a regular part of parenting, sometimes it’s nice to be on the receiving side of read-alouds, and not just on the giving side.

One of the nice things about audio books (as opposed to read alouds) is that they can be listened to again and again without wearing out the narrator (read: parent or older sibling). And they can be enjoyed at almost any time. One of my sons who learned to read late commented recently that he would have LOVED to have had more audio books available when he was younger. (We tended to have enough for road trips, but certainly not near as many as “real” books, so he and other late bloomers were at the mercy of their older sibling’s reading time when they wanted to enjoy a good book together. (Chronicles of Narnia and the entire American Adventures series were popular read alouds.)

Traveling with Children

We tend to listen to A LOT of audio books while traveling, regardless of who is in the car. Obviously the choices of books vary, but the act of listening to books is a common part of road trips in our family. In the early years it was generally CDs picked up from the library or tapes and CDs that we had purchased. Even the one vehicle we’ve owned with a DVD player in it (our 8 passenger Toyota Sienna), involved much more listening than watching. (See the blog post on travelling on the Lewis and Clark trail for more information on how we handled that.)

When traveling with children, I can’t even imagine not having a vast variety of audio books to help fill the hours with fun and education.  As I mentioned in the Lewis and Clark post, we have a special love of Odyssey, Jungle Jam, and Jonathan Park stories for road trips that involve children.

Children’s Books

As time moves on, so does technology. So now, we are just as likely to be listening to a book we’ve downloaded, but in many ways the more things change, the more they stay the same. I have been an Audible account holder for three years now, and since that account is more for me, than for others, it does contain a lot of books that I got just for me to listen to. But, in the midst of all of those there is still a fairly good mix of children’s books – from Winnie the Pooh and the Little Prince to the Water Horse and Pippi Longstocking (and the Hobbit, if you can include that on a list of children’s books, which I have mixed feelings about). I’ve listened to this particular recording of the Hobbit all the way through twice, and if you won’t think less of me, I’ll even admit to having listened to the Water Horse and Pippi Longstocking (actually I’ll admit to those either way – they were fun books). I have only listened to the beginnings of the other two, but in time, I hope to add those to my completed list. (Maybe I’ll look for an opportunity to share them with my grandchildren.)

Educational Value of Audibles

For children learning to read, the ability to hear a book and follow along on a physical copy can be very fruitful. And for older students, the amount of educational materials available on Audible is quite impressive.  Their collection of the Great Courses lectures series alone makes Audible invaluable. The lectures are aimed at college students and other adults, but with careful use, many of them can also be very useful for high school students.  (More on Great Courses below.)

My Personal Audible List

My listening library is as eclectic as my physical library (and the books I write, for that matter). My interests are vast and varied – and a quick look at my audio library shows that. Many of those books are ones that I sought out for one reason or another, but many others are ones I found thanks to one of Audible’s great sales (their “Daily Deal” being one of my favorites – though sometimes I find they can go many, many days before I see something even worth looking at). One of the many things I like about Audible is that when you have a membership they give you 12 months to decide whether you actually like a book or not. (And when an account gets as backlogged as mine does sometimes, that’s a nice time period.)

With that wonderful refund policy, I’ve actually returned about 10% of the books I’ve gotten from Audible. I usually make returns for one of two reasons – I don’t like the narrator or the bad language is just too much to put up with. Or, thirdly, on a few occasions it was because I just couldn’t get into the story. And it’s nice to be able to return a book for any of those reasons.

And, as a result of their specials, and their generous return policy, I’ve discovered a whole world of Audio books I wouldn’t have known existed.

Great Courses as Audibles

I would be remiss in not mentioning one particular category of Audible books that alone would make my Audible account worth having – the Great Courses lecture series.  Almost every Great Courses series that can be bought as just an audio can be gotten through Audible. At just $10 – $15 (depending on your credit costs), I know of no better way to listen to their amazing array of wonderful courses! (And if you watch the sales, sometimes they are even cheaper than that!) I still buy the occasional video-based course straight from Great Courses, but if it will work as just audio, I buy it from Audible!

Just a small sampling of some of my favorite Great Courses Audible books (and I’ve bought over 40!):

Other Types of Books I Enjoy

And of course, I do listen to “real” books in addition to the many lectures I enjoy –  both fiction and non-fiction.  Some of my favorite non-fiction books have included more books on writing, more on history (I’m sure both of those surprise you), in addition to more Shakespeare and economics. My fiction books are pretty well mixed as well, though I have discovered that I enjoy quite a few “political thrillers” and “cozy mysteries,” – with Rhys Bowen being one of my favorite, newly discovered authors!

At $10 – $15 for the “full priced” audible books I buy, and $5 or less for the sale books, I get lots of bang for my bucks for the Audible books I purchase.  If you haven’t already given Audible a try, I can strongly recommend it!

Trying Audible

Now that I’m three years and three hundred plus books into my Audible journey, I’m constantly amazed at how many people haven’t tried it. For $15/month, you get one credit (which equals one regularly priced book), or for $25/month you get two credits. (And it probably won’t surprise you to know that there’s an even more impressive/expensive membership for those of us who want to get an average of more than two books per month.

So have you given Audible a try for yourself and/or your family? What are your favorite books to listen to? I would love to hear what your thoughts and experiences with Audible have been.

Happy listening!

Cathy

Yes, Learning Can Be Fun!

Do You Believe Learning Can Be Fun?

Are you one of those teachers/parents who question whether school can actually be fun? If so, sadly, I would put you in the majority. For some reason, the idea that learning can be fun seems to escape most teachers I talk to (teachers at home or in classrooms).  It’s as if we’ve come to associate learning and drudgery, education and pain.

Do You Incorporate Games?

So after homeschooling for the better part of thirty-five years and helping other homeschool families for at least half of that time, I guess I shouldn’t be amazed by how many people don’t incorporate games into their homeschooling packages.

When Do You Use Games?

Instead, it seems that “fun learning” is something we hold over our students’ heads – “after you finish your assignment, you can play that game, or put together that puzzle.”

What is “Real” School?

But, maybe it’s time to reevaluate what we consider as “real school.” My proposition: If learning is taking place – education is in effect.  And education counts as “real school,” even if it’s outside the scope of a packaged curriculum.  If learning is fun, we have less resistance, our students want to continue it longer, and they will retain more of it.

So where, exactly is the problem with any of that?  Maybe because it takes us away from our comfort zones of lesson plans, “canned curriculum,” and tests. But maybe that’s exactly what we need to be doing.

Games – General

Too often we think of games as merely entertainment or the reward for completing the required schoolwork. But as I said, my contention is that games can and should be a regular part of our educational packages. We need to look more seriously at the “non-schoolish” things that can comprise the various elements of how we educate our children. Those elements should include hands-on learning when feasible and games can make up a unique part of that type of learning.

Games – Valuable Ways to Expand Education

Games often stand alone in their ability to combine fun and repetition with learning. The best games also bring family members of various ages and abilities together in ways that canned curriculum will never do. Once you have started thinking of games as valuable ways to expand the education of your children, you should start to see games and game ideas in a variety of places.

Games You May Already Own

You may want to start by relooking at the games your family already owns.  Have you ever stopped to consider the educational value of games like Monopoly, Yahtzee, and Scrabble? Most of us have owned those games for years, but how often do we break them out as part of school? Sadly, not often enough.

New Rules for Old Games

Consider the games you already own according to the rules they came with, but also try to look at them in a new light. How many of them would serve other purposes if we tweaked the rules some or came up with brand new rules? When children are learning their math facts, dice are a great tool, and when they are learning to spell, Scrabble letters are very useful.

Thinking Outside the Box

And I have found that once we get our children thinking “outside the box” they often exceed us in coming up with new and creative ideas. And of course, beyond revising the games you already own, it can be worth taking a look at new games as well. Well-made quality games are pricier today than when I first started buying games for my family, but the next time you find an educational game you think might meet the needs of your family, but you are balking at the price, consider how much we often spend on just one textbook or teachers’ manual!

All of a sudden that game, which could occupy numerous members of your family for many, many hours and help them obtain or practice a new skill, may be a great value indeed. We need to view prices as just part of the value factor and not the determining one. A very cheap game that no one likes, or that teaches little, can be a very bad use of our money, while the pricier one may prove to be the best value in your educational toolbox.

Repetition Without Pain

Games are particularly useful for young children and students of any age with learning disabilities, but that does not mean you should shy away from them for your other, older students. A key ingredient in any learning is repetition, and a prime factor in repetition without pain is fun! Too many times we discount the importance of fun in education, and we do so at our own loss, and that of our students.

Enjoying a Card Game

Card Games, Dice Games, Board Games

Now, I’m not talking computer games or electronic games here. I will not go so far as to say that there is no educational value in any of those, but I will say that in the case of most kids, they need less electronic stimulation, not more. I’m talking about the value of card games and dice games and good old-fashioned board games.

Good Books and Lots of Games

I was fortunate to grow up with two very important things in my home – lots of good books and lots of game playing, particularly cards. Consequently, my own children have grown up surrounded by both as well! At one point my children counted the games in our game collection, and we had over one hundred. (At last approximation we had over five thousand books in our home as well.) Not that every game gets played equally, but many, many of them have been enjoyed for countless hours by a large variety of people – in and out of our family.

Travel Games/Cards

When we buy each other gifts, they are as often as not books, games, or both. When the older children come home for holidays or breaks out come the favorite games. (Or along come new games, that are often destined to become favorites.) And any time is a good time to pull out a deck of cards! When we travel, it isn’t a question of if we’ll pack any games, but how many we’ll pack.  Even if space is tight, there’s always room for a deck or two of cards. And whether our current group consists of two or ten or more, we can find a game that will work.  (And on the occasion that our group is larger than that, something which happens more and more these days, we just lengthen the table and play multiple games at the same time!)

Specifics: Playing Cards

We would be lost without multiple decks of playing cards around our home.  Cards are an inexpensive, portable, versatile activity.  The youngest to the oldest can be occupied with them. Younger children can match colors and numbers, even with a partial deck of cards.

Card Games for Younger Children

It’s a shame that cards seem to have lost their universal appeal in many places. Cards are not just good fun and shared memories (which would already be enough to make them valuable), they are also great for improving memory, strategy and thinking skills. While most card games involve some level of “luck,” the better ones also require planning and thinking. With younger students there are always the old classics – Memory, Go Fish, Old Maid, Crazy Eights, and War. (Stop and think about the educational value in each of those if you have previously discounted them.)

Memory Games

Memory games are wonderful, and put various ages on an equal footing; my youngest children almost always beat me in these games. (And the beauty of memory games is that they can be made to help introduce or review almost any different topic!)

Card Games for Older Family Members

In our family, we enjoy various card games with anywhere from one to twelve players.  Most of the games we play build thinking skills and the ability to strategize. As the kids got older, some of our family favorites have included Spades, Hearts, Blackout, Canasta, and Shanghai Rummy.

And nowadays you can find the rules for any or all of those on-line, so if you haven’t played them before, or don’t remember how, that is no excuse!

Specifics: Timeline Games

 Chronology

Many years ago I stumbled upon a special card game called Chronology. The original Chronology contained six hundred cards, each with a date and event from their list of important dates in world history. If you can ever find the game, it is a great introduction to or review of world history.)

With Chronology each person starts with a card face up in front of them, and the idea is to build your own personal timeline. If it is your turn, the person next to you on the right takes the top card of the draw pile and reads you the event on it. You don’t have to know the date on the card, you only have to know where it falls relative to the other card you have. (Before in time? Or afterwards?) If you guess correctly you add the card to your personal timeline. Your goal is to eventually arrange a predetermined number of cards in chronological order in front of you.

Time-Line Games

It’s a great way to review (or learn) the flow of important events in history, without sitting down and trying to memorize them.  We liked the idea so well that we made a number of our own Time-Line games, including the History of Astronomy, Space Exploration, the American Revolution, the American Civil War, and many more.

And of course, you can also make your own. You can take a timeline of any period of history you are studying with your family and make your own timeline game. You could even make one of family history, including births, deaths (if desired), marriages, and other key family dates.

Specifics: Chess

Chess is a wonderful tool to develop thinking skills.  It is inexpensive, fairly easy to learn, but difficult to master.  It will occupy one or more students for great lengths of time.

Specifics: Puzzles

Puzzles are great builders of both visual skills and thinking skills.  Ravensburger Puzzles have been our all-time favorites, with 24 to 5,000 pieces. Beautiful pictures and quality pieces make them a real joy to put together by all ages.  Larger puzzles can be put together as a cooperative effort by many family members.

 Conclusion

 Games can be store-bought or home-made.  When you are considering games to purchase, look for games that are

  • Educational
  • Versatile
  • Long Lasting (enjoyable to play for years to come)
  • Economical (cheaper is not always the best investment)

Quality German Games

Some of the best games in the world come out of Germany.  I was reading an article in the December 9, 2002 issue of U.S. News and World Report that discussed this phenomenon.  German games topped seven out of ten of Games Magazine’s 2002 categories.  German games are often more expensive – because they are so well built – but they are generally worth the investment.  Our current game collection (over one hundred games) includes a number of games that we bought when we were in Germany –  again, many of them from Ravensburger. German games tend to include more strategy than their American counterparts, and are generally fast-paced.

Educational Games

Educational games can be considered part of our “curriculum package”.   Retention is aided when the students are having fun while learning.  Games can introduce a concept, or help reinforce an existing lesson.  They do not have to be saved until “after school”, they can be part of school.  Buy good games to supplement your other materials – or make your own!  Or better yet, have your students make them!  What a great way to reinforce learning.

Games and Reinforcement

Games can and should be used as a supplement no matter which method(s) we primarily use.  Because games are fun, and easy to repeat, and three-dimensional, they reinforce learning in a way that’s hard to replicate with other methods.

I hope I have helped convince you to look at educational games in a new light. Don’t be afraid to create your own games to help your children repeat or review important concepts. And be sure to take a fresh look at the games that already exist in the market. In conclusion, strive to make learning a little more fun for your family!

 

Have fun learning!

Cathy

Celebrating 35 years of Homeschooling, 40 years of Parenting, 60 years of Life

I think parents in general and homeschoolers specifically have a tendency to become too focused on the here and now. We tend to worry about when our children will learn to read, whether they’ve finished enough textbooks, and how we’ll get them through high school. But although I covered homeschooling highschoolers in an earlier post, I don’t think even that is where we should be focusing our attention. What will their lives look like when they are adults? What will our relationships be with them then? While they will always be our children, our relationships with them can and should change as they become adults.

As a result, I’m not one that cries at graduations or weddings. I see those as further celebrations of the job that we have done (as imperfect as it may be). Maybe it’s easier for me to think that way, since as of last summer, all of my children are adults. But let me encourage you by telling you, it’s all worth it! All the struggles, all the concerns, all the difficulties along the way to seeing them growing up – someday our jobs raising them really are completed.

I’ve been celebrating the completion of almost 35 years of homeschooling since my youngest graduated last May. I had threatened to dance across the stage at that graduation, but since I was also the key note speaker, I only danced internally.

In July the youngest turned 18, marking the passage of all my children to adulthood. (Even if Alabama thinks that age is 19, we’ll go with 18. I don’t want to wait another year to consider that job done, especially when the “child” in question has already graduated and left home!)

Those were celebrations, to be sure. But I think the final celebration of my work as a “Mom of 12” came when my children honored me with a video for my 60th birthday this past week. I laughed and cried (tears of joy) all the way through the 30-minute video where my children and “bonus children” (my son-in-law and daughters-in-law) shared various memories from the last many, many years.

And while no one will ever doubt that I’ve made as many mistakes as any other parent, I can know that I did my best as I raised my children, and that through it they all not only survived but also thrived.

As I watched the video (multiple times, in fact), I have to say that these are the types of things that bring joy to the heart of a homeschool mom, when she hears the thanks for:

  • Always believing in them when they struggled with learning something
  • Always being there for them (even when we were geographically apart)
  • Being willing to say, “Yes, and…” in support of their ideas whenever I could.

Teaching them:

  • To think outside the box
  • To never give up
  • To be willing to try new things/to be adventurous
  • To be thoughtful
  • To be questioning
  • To do their best (but not stress about the scores/results/etc.)

Several of my children enjoying a game.

Instilling in them

  • A love of Learning
  • A love of Games
  • A love of Travel
  • A love of History

Statue of York in Louisville
Following the Lewis and Clark Trail gave us history and travel!

So, when the homeschooling or parenting path is difficult, and you just want to throw in the towel, remember, they do grow up. (I’ve always heard “They grow up too fast” – but I don’t think I would go that far!) And someday, you too will be developing new relationships with your adult children and just looking back at these days as memories.

In the meantime, enjoy the present, don’t stress about the past, and look forward to that day in the future when you too will be retired from this current job that sometimes seems like it will go on forever.

Happy learning and living!

Cathy

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